– Summary –
Director : Paul WS Anderson
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Logan Lermann, Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, Milla Jovovich, Christoph Waltz, Mads Mikkelson, Orlando Bloom, Gabriella Wilde, James Corden, Freddie Fox, Juno Temple, Til Schweiger.
Approx Running Time : 110 Minutes
Synopsis: D’Artagnan travels to Paris to join the legendary Musketeers, only to get swept up in a plot between Cardinal Richelieu and Duke Buckingham to start war between France and England. Double-crosses, sword fights, and period costumes ensue.
What we think : Solidly entertaining adventure yarn sees the classic story trotted out again, given a shiny new look (thanks to director Paul WS Anderson’s keen eye for visuals) and a thunderous soundtrack. While it’s ultimately a frivolous affair, and devoid of any real depth and emotion, the action is frenetic and the dialogue often sparkles. I’d recommend it on the strength of the wonderful performances alone – even if the nett result is the cinema equivalent of a trifle.
One for all…. again.
While one would never claim Paul WS Anderson is a director who takes storytelling risks, he’s certainly one who – love him or hate him – has tapped into a niche market for giving audiences what they want. Not every film needs to be an Oscar contender, and Anderson’s made something of a career out of bucking the trend to gain success before embarking on a “serious film” trajectory that eventually will have him grasping the Academy Award at some point. No, Mr Anderson isn’t a director of the caliber of, say, a Fincher or a Tarantino, but what he does do is deliver solid, rousing, exciting, visceral entertainment that, even if the subject matter isn’t immediately pop-culture aware, manages to be moderately successful. Paul WS Anderson, as distinct from his similarly monikered directorial alumnus Paul Thomas Anderson (the director of Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood), has helmed the majority of the Resident Evil franchise in cinematic format (parts 1, 4 and 5), and cut his teeth on his first video-game-movie, Mortal Kombat, back in 1995. He followed that up with Resident Evil, before treading into territory discovered by the likes of Ridley Scott, James Cameron and John McTiernan, with Alien vs Predator, and immediately following that gave us the Jason Statham action vehicle, Death Race. His films make money – no doubt – but they seem to crystallize critical acclaim: the majority of his films are met with derision in the serious film critic community, and he’s become something of a poster boy for the “hack director” label, a label I think is grossly unfair. Anderson’s not a hack, he’s just found a niche he’s successful in, and is happy to remain there. So what of his attempt to re-introduce the classic story of The Three Musketeers? This isn’t a Resident Evil flick, so while it does have Milla Jovovich doing some minor action stuff here and there, there’s not a walking corpse to be seen. Is Anderson’s keen eye for stunning, visually athletic visuals capable of delivering a film worthy of the title appropriate to a Musketeer? Or is it, as most critics would have you think, a complete disaster?
It’s a fair bet that regardless of what Anderson puts his name on, I’m gonna enjoy it. I’m not going to expect the works of Shakespeare, nor am I going to see the film end up nominated during the Awards Season in Hollywood, but what I do expect is an engaging, usually entertaining affair that is content to exist within its own universe and not try to change the way you view cinema. It’s flashy, frivolous, fast-food cinema, and that’s what The Three Musketeers is. The film’s central premise is, as you’d expect, a variant of the Alexandre Dumas book, although here there’s embellishments on exactly how that plot – to start war between France and England via the puppeteering control of the juvenile king of France on the part of Cardinal Richelieu – is achieved. The familiar characters are all here: D’Artagnan, Aramis, Porthos and Athos, Constance, Richelieu and Milady, the Queen and King, all take their places within this familiar tale. However, it’s not necessarily the fact that they’re included that makes this story better or worse, but rather the way they’re presented.
The Three Musketeers never pretends to be a great film: it’s content to deliver some laughs, some nice action, and a sense of scope and scale that I don’t think we’ve seen from Anderson before. His Musketeer film is the very definition of swashbuckling, even in the face of a dearth of character development and logical plot progression. The movie rattles along without a care for time and space, leaving more time for witty repartee (always loved that word, “repartee”) and the clang of sword-on-sword action. The script, which spends more time digging up some laughable and laugh-inducing one-liners, doesn’t seem to really care about nuance and subtlety, and while I’d normally mark a film low for this oversight, here I was having too much fun to really care. Which is exactly what a film should do: first and foremost, it should entertain. And if there’s a single element to the film that does just that, it’s the casting.
Logan Lermann makes a solid, if underwritten, D’Artagnan. He’s brash, cocky and athletic, while being (apparently) easy on the eye for the ladies. His character’s arc is clumsily handled, with his motivations for embarking on this quest to become a Musketeer seemingly just a young man’s fantasy, lacking a genuine catalyst for provoking him into action. A tepid scene early in the film has his parents sending him out into the world to make his mark, but it amounts to naught five minutes later when he does arrive in Paris and finds himself booked for three duels against the three titular Musketeers. Why’s he so arrogant, when he’s never been out into the world before? It’s not explained. Matthew Macfadyen is a standout as Athos, his surly look and barbed dialogue really selling his part in proceedings; you get the sense that Macfadyen (most girls will remember him as Mr Darcy in the Keira Knightley vehicle, Pride & Prejudice) is really enjoying his work here. Ray Stevenson is solid as Orthos, while Luke Evans seems to disappear from the movie as Aramis periodically, he has so little to do. The big gun cast members, Milla Jovovich and Christoph Waltz, enjoy their work, although in the case of the former, seem somewhat out of their depth. Jovovich can’t quite deliver the character-driven nuance and believability of a period-era double agent in Milady, with some terrible line delivery and a lack of grace within the character’s framework undermining the majority of her scenes. That, plus the dresses she’s forced to wear do absolutely nothing to show off her lithe frame.
Secondary cast members almost outshine the major players in this: Orlando Bloom has star billing but is reduced to a walking cliche in Duke Buckingham, the villainous conniver with designs on France, with his moustachioed character essentially a glorified cameo; Freddie Fox (who’s only major feature film prior to this was the where-did-it-go sequel to St Trinians) and Juno Temple (who had a small part in The Dark Knight Rises but also appeared with Fox in St Trinians II) make an appealing couple as the young King and Queen of France, while James Corden performs his usual schtick as Planchet, the bumbling manservant to the Musketeers. Even Til Schweiger, an actor who has mystefyingly managed to carve a career while being innately unable to… you know, act… has a great time as the ill-fated Cagliostro, who encounter the Musketeers on a previous mission which goes wrong – and sets up the major plot of the film. Mads Mikkelson seems bored to be playing Captain Rochefort, the Cardinal’s henchman, and memories of Tim Roth’s vastly superior effort in The Musketeer overshadow his effort. Mikkelson’s better than this, but he’s working with very little as far as character goes. Plus, he’s swamped by more potent villains in the Cardinal and Buckingham.
The action of the film is effortlessly enjoyable. The swordfighting, the airship battles and the widescreen set-pieces are all superbly mounted, well designed and easily digested – even if they’re entirely improbable. That’s the great thing about this film, though; it’s not meant to be realistic or believable, but it’s rollicking enough to override any deficiencies in story. What I really liked about this film, aside from the cast and the impressive visual effects, is the fact that a lot of it is shot in real world locations (mainly Germany) to give it added weight. There’s nothing like a really impressive palace as a backdrop for a setting that’s supposed to be a palace. No amount of soundstage work can supplant this for the viewer. With the backing of some major financing, Anderson presents us with a truly swashbuckling, fun, adventure film, a film harkening back to early Spielberg; although while not quite reaching those lofty heights, it’s disposable entertainment enough to keep you going for an hour or so, and as such is an effort to be applauded. Unlike Peter Hyams’s dismally messy production of the same story, Anderson’s lack of seriousness in the face of adverse audience preparedness actually allows the viewer to really embrace this film for what it is: it’s a delight of a film, the kind of thing that offers a brief escape from reality while never striving to be taken seriously.
You’ll go along way to find another version of The Three Musketeers that sparkles with such delicious dialogue, nor will you find a version that has the breadth of scope and production value to back that up as this one. It’s not a great film, inasmuch as it never elevates the material nor elucidates the mind, but it delivers a resounding action-packed entertainment package that’s as disposable as it is fun, and if that’s all I need to have a great time at the movies, then I’m all for it.